High School Course Taking Trajectories Analysis

Highschool Course Taking Trajectories Analysis


What mathematics course pathways are Rhode Island’s students taking in high school, and how can the state and local school districts better guide students in their course taking decisions to improve their long-term outcomes?

Overview: The Annenberg Institute is exploring innovative solutions to persistent racial and income gaps in high school course-taking trajectories using behavioral science and data science to provide students with “guided pathways.” The combination of AI-based personalized recommendations and guidance counselors’ high-touch advising could effectively guide students into course pathways that have long-term benefits for each student and reduce racial and income inequities. This project was motivated by an effort to provide better data and evidence based policymaking for RI public education.

Background: Given the substantial benefits of advanced mathematics courses, a major focus of education policy in the United States has been ensuring that all students have access to advanced courses and enrolling more students in those courses. Recent literature found consistent results that the characteristics and policies associated with higher overall advanced course participation are also associated with wide racial/ethnic gaps in course outcomes. Thus, providing additional resources to expand course access without intentionally focusing on improving equity in course-taking choices may in fact widen the gaps.

Methods: This project improves upon existing literature by comprehensively identifying the mathematics course trajectories that students take in high school, the racial and income inequalities in coursetaking patterns, and the relationships with students’ longer-term outcomes. We use unusually rich administrative data from the Statewide Longitudinal Data System in Rhode Island (RI SLDS), which link students’ K-12 course-taking information, standardized test scores, and college attendance records. By analyzing high school course-taking data of five cohorts of high school students who started their 9th grade from 2012 to 2016, we focus on the informational and behavioral barriers in students’ course-taking decisions and seek to develop a scalable and cost-effective solution for guiding students into their optimal course pathways.